The would-be immigrants were to be employed in manufacturing, agriculture and construction, and would have joined an estimated 500,000 Bangladeshi already in the country, out of an estimated three million Asian migrant workers in the whole country.
These “workers are from poverty-stricken families and had to raise about 200,000 Bangladeshi taka [or about US$ 2,500] to send their son to Malaysia in the hope of escaping poverty,” said Irene Fernandez, executive director of Tenaganita, an NGO that helps migrant workers in distress. For purpose of comparison she noted that a primary school teacher in Bangladesh earned only about 800 taka (US$ 13) a month.
Malaysia’s about-face on the 70,000 visas is the direct result of the global economic crisis which is having major impact on the local labour market.
“Because of the downturn, factory owners are cutting costs by letting locals go and keeping foreigners because they are cheaper,” said Govindasamy Rajasegaran, secretary general of the Malaysian Trades Union Congress. “If this trend continues, by June we expect 400,000 local workers to be laid off.”
But foreign workers are also affected by cuts in jobs and lay-offs. Most are repatriated but many choose to go underground and take underpaid jobs just to avoid going home.
Under current rules, migrant workers are given 30 days to secure work after arriving in Malaysia or they are forced to leave the country.
“In theory, if there are no jobs they are repatriated, but in practice they . . . easily find extremely low-paid jobs that are shunned by locals,” Ms Fernandez said.